Astronauts celebrate their great harvest of chili peppers in space with taco night

NASA astronauts celebrated with a taco night at the International Space Station, their second and last record crop of chili peppers in space for the Plant Habitat-04 experiment.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei prepared 12 of the cultivated chili peppers to return to Earth, and the crew ate the rest. Some team members completed surveys as part of the data collected and provided feedback on the chili peppers.

When the chili peppers return to Earth, the PH-04 team will analyze the collected data. The results will help show the effect of microgravity on the crop.

“Our goal is to enable the production of viable and sustainable crops for future missions as people explore the Moon and Mars,” said Matt Romeyn, PH-04 principal investigator at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Growing chili peppers in space is the longest plant experiment in the history of the International Space Station. The chili peppers were grown as part of the Plant Habitat-04 (PH-04) investigation that concluded 137 days after its onset.

It was about the cultivation of a hybrid variety of chili peppers called NuMex “Española Improved” Pepper.

In June, a science vehicle containing 48 disinfected pepper seeds was launched onto the space station. The first pepper harvest occurred on October 29. Plant Habitat-04 concluded on November 26 with the second harvest.

Astronauts grow chili peppers-NASA
Astronauts celebrating the first chili harvest in space aboard the International Space Station. Photo: NASA.

The crew ate the first crop. NASA Expedition 65 astronaut Megan McArthur added the peppers to a taco made with fajita beef, rehydrated tomatoes and artichokes.

“The level of excitement around the first vintage and space studs was unprecedented for us,” said Romeyn.

During the course of the experiment, all but four of the germinated plants were removed, giving each plant enough room to grow, in a total area the size of a large microwave oven.

Mostly, plants have grown similarly on the space station and on the ground, although with some differences that are due to microgravity.

Growing chili peppers in space
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei prepares to photograph the chili peppers growing in the Advanced Plant Habitat. Photo: NASA

“The peppers are delayed about two weeks on the space station. We believe this is due to a delay in germination, probably related to fluid challenges in microgravity, ”said Romeyn.

Microgravity could also have an effect on capsaicin levels in bell peppers, as the space-grown chilies were a bit spicier.

Pedicels, the extension of the stems that connect to the flowers and fruit, were not curved as seen on the groundInstead, they were completely straight, which is a microgravity effect.

Since 2015, astronauts have eaten nine types of leafy vegetables grown in the Veggie growth chamber, as well as two crops grown in the APH chamber: radishes and bell peppers.

Following the success of PH-04, upcoming planned edible crop experiments include growing dwarf tomatoes and testing new types of leafy greens.

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